Happy birthday to a world changer

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

My older son celebrated his 38th birthday this week. We didn’t go to Nashville to mark the occasion for several reasons, with one of them being I was leaving the next morning for New York City on a business trip.

The juxtaposition of those two things threw me into a fit of nostalgia. My children’s birthdays always take me down the path to the past, but an upcoming trip to the Big Apple at the same time as Trey’s birthday made me think about what is and what might have been.

As a know-it-all teenager, I had my future written in concrete. Career woman, all the way. No time for children, no suburban life. I was college and then New York City bound, destined to write the Great American Novel, or, perhaps, be the first millionaire poet.

Once in college and faced with the classes that went along with a liberal arts degree (like math and economics), I switched to journalism and loved it. My concrete plans got a new layer: The New York Times was surely my destiny.

When I found out that “98 percent” effective still leaves two percent, and I was pregnant, I was apoplectic. Until I held that tiny miracle in my arms, life was all about me.

Every parent’s story is different, but the grand conclusions are usually the same. Even friends who knew they wanted children weren’t fully prepared for the miracle of childbirth – and I’m not referring to what happens during labor. There are miracles at every step of pregnancy, but the true miracle is what happens to your heart when you hold your first child.

My world shifted on its axis on Dec. 4, 1979. It tilted again three and a half years later when Brett was born, but I was ready for that one. Trey was the one who started it all, the one who made every dream I had of what would make me happy fade into supporting roles in the drama of my life.

So what about career and New York City? Well, (ironic gasp), I found I could have an exciting, fulfilling and sometimes fun career right here in Knoxville and be a mother at the same time. I never set foot in New York City until I was in my 50s, and the closest I got to the New York Times was to take a picture outside the building.

There was a time when having a 38-year-old son seemed lifetimes away. Today, it feels right. He is amazing. He is a fabulous father and great husband. He and his brother and the daughters-in-law and children they have brought to our lives have continued to expand the miracle he started in that hospital room years ago.

Would I have been happy with a 100 percent career focused life in New York City? Maybe. There is no one road to happiness. Would I trade one day with my children for a day at a reporter’s desk at the New York Times? Not even one.

I am happy that today’s young women can’t even fathom an “either/or” world, where something as big as a teenager’s dream can’t fit in thoughts of a career and children. I thrill with every opportunity women see opening before them in today’s world, although there are still many obstacles to handle.

But even with all that has changed for young men and women since 1979, I know one thing hasn’t.  When you hold that first-born child, the world still tilts, and your heart will never, ever be your own again.

Happy birthday, Trey. If anyone ever asks you how you plan to change the world, tell them, “I already have.”


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